Homes for wounded vets: Architect seeks balance

Michael Graves tells about balancing the need for space and the need for privacy and security in modern design and in his designs for veterans.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Nov 12, 2012 1:46PM

With Veterans Day passing earlier this month, we’re sharing some comments from architect Michael Graves on universal design and his work with the Wounded Warrior Home Project, which seeks to improve housing for wounded veterans.


The project, based at Fort Belvoir, Va., has  completed two homes so far. You can see the floor plans here.


Graves and two of his collaborators are giving a talk on the project at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the National Building Museum. The architect, who has used a wheelchair since 2003, has turned his focus to universal design since his disability. In addition to working on the Wounded Warrior homes, he has consulted on health-care design, an interest that grew out of his experiences, such as being in a rehab center where it was impossible to brush his teeth or shave from a wheelchair.


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"I require the people in my office that work on health care tool around in a wheelchair for a week or two," he told Wired, "because you can tell people who work in health care, so-called experts, are people who've never been in a wheelchair and have no conception. It should be common knowledge, but it isn't."

Graves talked to Curbed: Washington about his design philosophy and how he is applying it to universal design.


He also talked about balancing open design, which is popular and easy to navigate in a wheelchair, with some veterans' needs for small, secure spaces.

"Modern architecture is about the worst thing you can do for a schizophrenic in that it's open," Graves told Curbed. "It's without walls, with just space from space to space to space, with little partitions that separate things. A schizophrenic will come to dinner with their coat on so that they're always protected. You need to make rooms, to give them real security."

The same sort of balance needs to come into play in modern architecture, where aesthetics can overwhelm practicality. He says of the embrace of modernism:

"We started to make spaces instead of rooms. And then we overdid it, like with glass doors, and ultimately you don't have privacy.
"The trick is to have both. To make rooms big enough that there is a feeling of openness and engagement with the outside, depending on how you want that engagement, and then also the room where you can sleep and close the shutters or the blinds and have a room that's dark so that you're not sleeping in something with a two story atrium with a glass room."
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